How to See the Olowalu Petroglyphs on Maui

February 7, 2024

A visit to the Olowalu petroglyph on the island of Maui is an interesting and different activity. Try this, if you are on the West Coast of Maui near Lahaina, its historic whaling era town. A visit to the petroglyphs will take you about an hour and is a fascinating counterpoint to a day of snorkeling.

A visit here is a chance to get out of our century and get a little glimpse of Hawaii before we westerners left our mark on the islands.

I read that petroglyphs exist all over the world (except Antarctica) and date to the Neolithic and late Upper Paleolithic eras. They are a way of communicating important information and ideas before written language was created.

The oldest in North America is thought to be on a lake bed in northern Nevada. People say they thought because petroglyphs are continually being found.

Ki’i Pohaku-

This means images carved in stone. It is thought that early Hawaiians made these with a pointed very hard bit of basalt and a rock hammer. No erasers!

Hawaiian Petroglyphs have been found throughout the islands in about 100 different locations. Some are on horizontal spaces and can be covered with sand for many years. Others are in vertical cliff locations. They are customarily found in groups that suggest to scholars that they are in places significant to the people who made them.

The Olowalu Petroglyphs

There are other petroglyphs on Maui, but those at Olowalu are most likely the easiest to get to. There are about 100 images high on a vertical basalt cliff. We found it not difficult to make them out. We could see human forms, animals and I remember what appeared to be a boat.

What Were They For?

Information is not precise, but suggestions are that they reflect an integral part of a culture and its belief system.

  • They might just say I was here.
  • They may commemorate births, hunts, battles or sea voyages.
  • Some seem to suggest human sacrifice.
  • One seems to be a lovingly created baby duckling.

How Old Are They

The Olowau set is considered to be over 300 years old. This relative youth surprised us. However, the Hawaiian language operated in a completely oral tradition with stories told by one generation to another.

The first of the New England missionaries arrived in 1820. Shortly thereafter, about 1826 they worked with the sounds as they understood them and created an alphabet and a written language.

There is a little longer history than this. Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii in 1778 and upon hearing the language spoken, had it written down. He and his crew apparently recognized some sounds from the Polynesian islands they visited.

The Reverend William Ellis wrote in 1823 that he was told that they represented travel stories. Ellis was a London-based, religious missionary to the south Pacific. He made large contributions to missionary literature. His Hawaiian language hymns are still sung today.

How To Get There

They are located just off the Honoapiilani Highway about 7.7 miles south of Lahaina. Turn at the Olowalu General Store and Leoda’s Kitchen which can give you a very nice local lunch and detailed directions.

Directly behind these two places, you will find a dirt road. The petroglyphs are located on your right about 1/4 mile. There is a sign which is hard to see. We drove beyond it and turned back. There are residences beyond so we tried not to intrude.

Who is Responsible for Them?

The Lahaina Restoration Society acquired the lease to the property in 1964. They built a stairway and walkway to make it easier to see the petroglyphs. Sadly, people used this as an opportunity to deface them and the structure has been removed.

You will be looking up but it is an interesting opportunity. Take it if you have time, and brilng your camera.

Update: New Sunscreen Regulations Take Effect January 1.2021

Update: Using Sunscreen in Hawaii, Starting January 1. 2021

Effective January 1. 2021 Hawaii will no longer permit the sale of sunscreens containing these ingredients.

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate

This is a decision made by the state to avoid the continued damage to coral reefs.

The next scheduled change to take place will be in January 1, 2023 when those formulations will not be allowed to be used at all on Hawaii.

Hawaii is not the only jurisdiction to enact such regulations to protect the reefs and marine life.

Aruba, The Marshall Islands, the US Virgin Islands, Palau, and the city of Key West Fl have taken similar actions.

Currently, the favored sunscreen ingredients are the following:

  • Zinc Oxide
  • Titanium Dioxide

This appears to be based on the FDA ruling that only these two ingredients (which create physical barriers between skin and sun) belong in its Category 1 “generally regarded as safe.”

Why is this an issue? Here is a story I read online. A guy said that he loved to eat fish at a certain restaurant in the Bahamas because of the coconut flavoring in the fish. Someone asked the chef, “What do you flavor the fish with?”

He said, “ Oh, I only use salt!”

Some Other Fun On Maui

Snorkeling- is probably the most popular sport on the island. It’s way easier than surfing and cheaper than polo!

This is a little more information on how to find the Petroglyphs

Mama’s Fish House, A Memorable Meal”

“Snorkeling On Maui

“Pacific “O” -Romantic Waterfront Dining”

“How To Visit Maui”